A Hunger Artist | Study Guide

Franz Kafka

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A Hunger Artist | Symbols


The Cage

The cage symbolizes both the capitalist box of entertainment the audience has put the hunger artist in and the cage in which he has put himself to perpetuate his own suffering. It's telling that even though the cage has a clock, the hunger artist never looks at it. He refuses to be bound to the notion that he is "on the clock" or that his work is a job that will compensate him with money or fame. The cage also represents the literal division between the hunger artist and the audience, and marks the audience as spectators watching him locked in his own cage of suffering and endurance. The cage also symbolizes the hunger artist's free will in contrast to the panther's forced confinement in it. The hunger artist chooses to stay in the cage for his art, while the panther is forced by the circus to be on display.

The Panther

The panther symbolizes the complete opposite of everything the hunger artist represents. It is alive, thrilling, and voracious in its appetite, and its body is described as "noble," in contrast to the hunger artist's emaciation. The beast does not consciously perform as an artist. It simply exists as itself, and it provides the audience with immediate gratification. For the circus, an animal like the panther is an immediate moneymaking draw, unlike the hunger artist's long-term endurance that must be witnessed over a period of time. It is captive and therefore illicit, while the hunger artist's captivity in the cage was by his own design. The hunger artist inflicted his own suffering upon himself, while any suffering the panther may feel is inflicted by those who keep him captive. However, the panther does not seem to be suffering at all; ironically, it exhibits a "joy in living."

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